One of the things that makes me proudest to be a Mets fan is the way our team has always honored our past. While we keep one eye on the future, we never forget where we came from. The Mets have built a history of paying homage to our National League heritage. Our team colors are blue and orange: Dodger blue and Giant orange. The ‘NY’ logo on our cap is reminiscent of the cap worn by the NY Giants. Even our logo is a vivid reminder of our baseball ancestry: The bridge at the forefront of our team insignia signifies the return of National League baseball to New York, the bridge from the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to the Mets.
The façade of our new home is a replica of Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers for 45 seasons from 1913-1957. (Ironically, Shea also served as home for the Mets for the same number of seasons.) Unlike the new home of our cross-town rivals, whose stadium honors their OWN past, our home honors the past of NL Baseball before our time.
However, I find it disturbing there is something, or someone, who has been greatly overlooked in the creation of our new home. I find it bothersome that there is no mention of Gil Hodges.
True, we have ‘The Jackie Robinson Rotunda,’ a worthy tribute. Robinson is being honored not just for what he did on the field but, more importantly, for what he did off the field. Jackie was not only a great ballplayer and Hall of Famer but truly a great American. He endured things many of us can not even begin to imagine or understand. He took it all in stride and not only had the temperament and fortitude to put up with it, but actually excelled and thrived under hellish conditions.
But in the world of National League Baseball in the city of New York, no player had more of an impact on two NY teams than Gil Hodges did. Brooklyn teammate Carl Erskine said of Hodges, “I give him strong credit for Jackie’s success. Pee Wee Reese gets identified with Jackie because they were the second base/shortstop combination. But on the other side of Jackie, Gil played and Gil was a peacekeeper. Everybody respected him, teammates and opponents alike.” Dodger pitcher Clem Labine said, “Gil was the only player I can remember whom the fans never, and I mean never, booed.” In the period from 1948-1957 that Hodges played 1B, he and his Dodger teammates captured an impressive 5 pennants, 1 World Championship and averaged a remarkable 94 wins (in a 154 game season.) The Dodgers moved to Brooklyn in 58 and took their first baseman with them.
But Gil returned to New York in 1962 and as an original Met, he hit the 1st HR in team history. He retired shortly thereafter and after a brief stint managing the Washington Senators, #14 returned yet again to the city he loved and to the city that loved him. His first year as our manager, 1968, he guided the Mets to 73 wins, the most in team history to that point. And the following year, he was at the helm of ‘The Miracle.’ His #14 is one of only three ‘Mets’ numbers retired.
Perhaps more than any player in New York history, Hodges was loved, adored and respected by the fans of not one, but TWO teams. He won the hearts of both Dodgers and Mets fans. But yet, our new home will have no special remembrance of this icon. Why? Vin Scully, who broadcast Dodger games on two coasts, called Hodges, “One of the classiest men to ever put on a uniform.” However, I find it disheartening and a bit disappointing that a team who so cherishes tradition has snubbed such a Baseball giant as Gil Hodges.